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A First Timer's Guide to London: Where to Visit, Eat, Sleep, and Shop

A First Timer's Guide to London: Where to Visit, Eat, Sleep, and Shop | CosmosMariners.com

Of all of the cities that I've visited, London remains my absolute favorite. Why? It's a combination of the deeply layered history, the vibrant and distinct neighborhoods, and the dozens of iconic sites. I've had the chance to visit five times over the last 13 years, and I find something new to discover--and love--about the city every time I go.

London was the first city I visited on our first European trip. It was my home away from home during my study abroad program in college. It was where I realized the depth of my British literature obsession...which would ultimately lead me to get my graduate degree in English.

Yes, the weather can be moody (to put it nicely) and you'll never be fully dressed without an umbrella in your bag, but if you can look past that, London can be one of the most phenomenal trips of your life.

In this article, I'm going to share what you need to know for your first trip to London. It's by no means a comprehensive list of things to see or do in the city, as that would be nearly impossible on just one trip (or even 10!). What I've offered below should give you an overlook into this fascinating place and, hopefully, whet your appetite to come back and explore even more deeply.

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary

The Best of Ireland in 1.5 Weeks: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

When I'm planning an itinerary for a new trip, I try to include a driving portion whenever possible. Not only is a road trip often more time-effective than relying on transportation, it can also be cost-effective since you have more flexibility in where you're staying.

For our trip to Ireland last year, I knew we had to see Dublin--but I also wanted to explore the rest of the country as well. We didn't have a terribly long time to stay because of my husband's limited vacation days, but we managed to put together what I think is an incredible road trip that takes in the best of what Ireland has to offer!

4 Gorgeous Eastern European Cities to Put on Your Bucket List

4 Gorgeous Eastern European Cities to Put on Your Bucket List | CosmosMariners.com

The next time you're wishing for a European vacation, look past the obvious choices like Paris, London, and Rome. Instead, consider heading to Eastern Europe and spending time there. Not only will you have fewer crowds to fight (since this part of the European continent is a bit of a hidden gem for travelers), your budget will stretch further as there are bargains to be had throughout Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe is a term used to describe a number of countries that were formally part of the Soviet Union, in other words behind the Iron Curtain. There is much heated dispute about which countries actually constitute Eastern Europe but some of the better known names are Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania and Moldova. There are many more, and together they offer a huge variety of wonderful destinations.

Here are 4 up-and-coming spots in Eastern Europe that deserve your attention!

31 Incredible Museums from around the World

31 Incredible Museums from around the World | CosmosMariners.com

As someone who believes that learning is a lifelong process, I'm a huge fan of discovering new museums on my travels. Gone are the days of stuffy, off-putting museums where the main focus was keeping guests as far away as possible from the items of display. Instead, today's museums are vibrant, lively, and interactive: there's a focus on immersion and what the role of a museum is in today's society. Often, contemporary museums ask as many questions about the visitors as they do about the exhibits (thank you, postmodernism!)

I asked 31 fellow travel bloggers to share their favorite museums and received a wide array of submissions focusing on museums from across the globe. As you go through these, you'll notice what makes these museums so memorable: many are quirky, many delve into difficult subject matter (both in depth and in topic), and many are focused on topics that never would've been seen in museums 50 years ago (hello, comic books and neon lights). 

Add a few of these to your next trip and see how a fantastic museum can help you shape new opinions about the world around you.

6 Places Your Kids Will Love in Barcelona {Guest Post by Tiny Fry}

6 Places Your Kids Will Love in Barcelona {Guest Post by Tiny Fry} | CosmosMariners.com

Just as we were thinking about our 2017 travels (which includes a trip to Spain), Samara from TinyFry.com is here to share her best tips for visiting Barcelona with your favorite tiny traveler.

Top 3 Places You Don't Want to Miss in Norway

Top 3 Places You Don't Want to Miss in Norway | CosmosMariners.com

If you haven't noticed, the Nordic countries are having a major moment in the travel industry now. While Iceland gets much of the focus, there's plenty to see and do in Finland, Greenland, Sweden, and Norway as well!

They call it the Land of the Midnight Sun, but did you know that Norway has a whole lot more to offer than a sun that never entirely sets during the summer months? From the breath-taking beauty of its Fjords to picture pretty cities that are always Instagram-ready, Norway is a truly unique place to visit with lots to see and do for tourists young and old alike.

How to Spend 72 Incredible Hours in Germany {Guest Post by Disney in Your Day}

How to Spend 72 Incredible Hours in Germany {Guest Post by Disney in Your Day} | CosmosMariners.com

While I'm taking a bit of a maternity leave to get some snuggles with my new little one (and my preschooler, too!), I asked Becky from Disney in Your Day to share a post about her travels. While she primarily writes about her love of all things Disney--from her visits to the parks to monthly souvenir subscription boxes--Becky also shares her experiences in blogging and community theatre. I'm a fellow Disney fan, so I was so excited to meet Becky through her blog (which has quickly become one of my must-reads!).

How to Immerse Yourself in Iceland's Rich Culture

How to Immerse Yourself in Iceland's Rich Culture | CosmosMariners.com

In recent years, Iceland has hit the travel scene in a big way. And, given that the country is very safe for visitors, has gorgeous scenery straight off of a postcard, and is where you can often see the Northern Lights (a major entry on my bucket list that still needs to be checked off!), it's no wonder that people are clamoring to book their trips here.

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

I will fully admit that my knowledge of world geography stinks. I'm okay with the biggies on each continent, but when you start getting into the smaller countries, I struggle a bit. So, with that in mind, don't make too much fun of me when I share this next tidbit of knowledge: I don't think that I could've found Luxembourg on a map if you'd paid me a million dollars prior to October of 2015.

One wonderful thing about traveling (and travel blogging) is that I am exposed to and read about many, many different countries, so--good news!--my geography is slowly improving every day. And, for an even bigger slice of that good news pie, I'm happy to report that some of these countries that I didn't have a clue about are actually well worth your and my time.

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be a Part of Your Ireland Trip

Inishmore, Gaelic Trivia Night, and Iron Age Forts: Why the Aran Islands Must Be on Your Ireland Trip | CosmosMariners.com

As the itinerary for our Ireland trip came together, I knew two things had to happen: 1) I had to stay in a castle while we were there, and 2) we had to visit the Aran Islands. Everything else was negotiable as long as both of those stipulations were satisfied.

Thankfully, both experiences ended up being just as fantastic as I'd hoped they'd be. I knew that I wanted to visit the Aran Islands in some capacity because they are isolated from mainland Ireland (something that's always appealing since I love to get off the beaten path!) and because they kept popping up as one of the must-do items in everything I read about Ireland.

8 Historic Houses to Add to Your Italy Itinerary

8 Historic Houses to Add to Your Italy Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Although I love learning about history while traveling, not all history-themed attractions are created equal. If you find museums are impersonal or overwhelming, consider visiting a historical home or two on your next visit. Not only are they more personal since you get to learn about the people who lived there, but they also give you a much more approachable way to learn about history since you can see (and sometimes touch) the things that made up life decades or centuries ago.

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

My husband, Landon, and I have found that some of our best times traveling occur when we've got nothing planned. When we went to Scotland a few years ago, we scrapped our entire itinerary one day on the suggestions of one of the hotel staff; we wandered around the Trossachs for a day and that remains one of our favorite travel days ever.

Bacharach, the Romantic Rhine, and the Marksburg Castle Visit that Never Happened

Bacharach, the Romantic Rhine, and the Marksburg Castle Visit that Never Happened | CosmosMariners.com

For the most part, our trip to Germany ran smoothly: we stuck to our schedule, all of the hotels we'd booked were waiting on us, and we stayed on budget.

But, there were a few times scattered across that two week road trip that we floundered despite our best efforts.

And that, my friends, brings me to the story of our time in Bacharach, the cutest little town on the Romantic Rhine, and why Marksburg Castle just didn't happen for us.

Castles and Cottages: 5 Incredible AirBnB and VRBO Properties in Ireland

Castles and Cottages: 5 Incredible AirBnB and VRBO Properties in Ireland | CosmosMariners.com
Our home away from home for a few days while in Ireland! Just call me Queen Natalie.
My husband, Landon, and I love to find new ways to explore the world. Whether we're trying somewhere for the first time or we're going back to a favorite haunt, we'll look at ways to personalize our visit. Neither of us had been to the Emerald Isle before this time, and in an effort to do something different than what we'd done on our other British Isles visits, we decided to plunge in the waters of AirBnB and VRBO while in Ireland.

5 Italian Vacation Spots with Literary Flair

5 Italian Vacation Spots with Literary Flair | CosmosMariners.com
{title card modified from flickr | creative commons}
Italy is best known for its incredible food, rich history, and distinctive architecture. However, this sun-soaked European country has also been beloved by writers--both from Italy and elsewhere--for centuries. If you're looking to add some literary history into your upcoming Italian vacation, you'll want to make sure that you visit these incredible spots!

A Walk in the Secret Bratislava {Guest Post by Girl Astray}

A Walk in the Secret Bratislava {Guest Post by Girl Astray} | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via Girl Astray}

The last (but certainly not least!) guest poster to take over the blog while I'm in Ireland is the multi-talented Karin, the travel blogger behind Girl Astray. Hailing from Slovakia, Karin traveled all over Europe, through India, parts of North America, and Southeast Asia before moving to Bogota, Colombia, to teach French at a preschool. A lover of languages, Karin began writing her blog in her native Slovak before switching to English; she also speaks Spanish and French.

Today, Karin is taking us to her home country of Slovakia to show us a lesser known sight in the 18th century city of Bratislava.

12 Cultural Activities to Do in the Algarve, Portugal

12 Cultural Activities to Do in Algarve, Portugal | CosmosMariners.com

Since the Algarve is Portugal's most visited summer vacation spot, you expect to find gorgeous water, sandy beaches, and plenty of warm weather. The Algarve has all of these in spades, but this region of Portugal (which draws its name from the Arabic word for "west") has plenty more to offer visitors when they tire of the sun, sands, and crowds.

For those who love to add adventure into their travels to history buffs, here's what you should do in the Algarve, Portugal (in no particular order):

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance)

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com

Several years ago, before I'd even thought about travel blogging, I went to Paris, France, with my parents and my sister. My sister is a Francophile through and through, so she chose several days in Paris as her high school graduation present.

On the surface, I should have fallen in love with the City of Lights: it has an incredible history, it's the setting for many of my favorite books (The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera are two that I can read again and again), and it's chock-a-block full of museums. But the reality of Paris left me wondering what the hype was all about.

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com
The Louvre
Over the course of our time in Paris, I had some great experiences and some down right awful experiences: there really wasn't much in the in-between.

While we were there, I loved visiting the art museums, particularly the Musee d'Orsay and the Pompidou Centre. I adored seeing the setting of The Phantom of the Opera at the Opera Garnier. I was stunned by the beauty of Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and Sainte-Chappelle. I am usually a very upbeat person who can find the best in just about anything, especially when I'm traveling.

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com
One of my favorite places in Paris: the Pompidou Centre!
So, given all of these great things that I experienced, why exactly didn't I love Paris?

The people were quite rude to us. Not all of them, of course--we bought breakfast from this one tiny bakery near our hotel several times, and the guy who ran it was really nice. But most of the people (everyone from the ticket person at the Metro to the waiters who served us) acted haughty and as if we were beneath them.

For example, one night we were tired after a long day of sightseeing and couldn't find the Metro station. We knew there was one nearby, but the entrance was eluding us. We went up to a food cart to ask for directions (in French, no less). I know my French isn't great (or even decent), but I was trying my best to put together grammatically correct sentences to ask where the Metro was. There were several people at the cart, and they all laughed at me. They laughed. When I then asked if they spoke English (again, in French), they said no and laughed again.

The thing is, I was trying really hard to communicate with them. I know I wasn't doing it well, but I was trying. If someone who was obviously foreign came up to me in Charleston and asked for directions, I would resort to hand gestures and drawings if necessary to help them. I'd never just laugh at them and leave them to wander.

It got tiresome being accosted by beggars at the major sites. I know that there are often homeless people and/or beggars in large cities, particularly around popular sightseeing spots. That in itself doesn't bother me. What did bother me about the beggars in Paris was how aggressive they were: they'd get in our faces, stand way too close for comfort, switch languages as they asked for money (since they were trying to figure out which language we spoke), and then yell at us when we walked away.

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com
At Notre Dame, preparing to walk through the artillery of people demanding money
I'm no stranger to metropolitan areas (and even lived in London during my study abroad program), but I've never been somewhere where I had to steel myself to walk into a church or museum. If it had only been at one place, I still probably wouldn't have been annoyed. But it was at EVERY. SINGLE. SIGHT.

It's hard to enjoy the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower when five people come up to you in three minutes all asking for money. We couldn't even get a picture of us at the iconic structure because we were harassed so much.

We were mugged on the Metro. If ever there was a reason to be wary of a place, this would be it. The experience that we had on the Metro one day left us shaky and very wary--neither of which are great feelings in a foreign country. My dad, who was the target of the mugging, felt helpless. Thankfully, we only lost a museum pass. PSA: Wear those money belts, folks!

Again, I've been in and around large cities at various points in my life, and I'm aware that being mugged can happen anywhere. But the mugging and the aggressive beggars just led to a sense of wariness that I didn't like. Even when I lived in London alone (and used the bus and Tube systems extensively), I didn't feel that way.

Why I Didn't Fall in Love with Paris (and Why I Want to Give It a Second Chance) | CosmosMariners.com
Myself in my younger days at the Rodin Museum

"Give it another chance!" all of you lovers of Paris are yelling at me through your computers. And I will--one day.

There are several things in the city that I'd still love to do, including take a tour of the catacombs, see Van Gogh's home north of Paris, try a macaron (nope, never had one!), and visit Napoleon's tomb. Don't get me started on what I want to do outside of Paris because that requires a completely different blog post!

I know there are some amazing things to see, do, and eat in Paris, and it really is unfortunate how my first trip there transpired. Part of the issue might have been my expectations--I thought I'd get the Paris where models walk around everywhere and Remy the rat makes award-winning ratatouille and very smart, fashion-forward people linger over their meals in cafe.

Some of what happened cannot be changed (like the crowds and the pickpockets), but I can take what I've learned and apply it for the better the next time around.

Have you been to Paris? If so, what did you think? Have you ever traveled somewhere that didn't live up to the hype or your own expectations?

What to See in Farnham, Surrey: A Guest Post by The Way I Wanderlust

What to See in Farnham, Surrey | CosmosMariners.com

I love finding new travel blogs, so I was delighted to come across The Way I Wanderlust, a travel blog written by the lovely Kayleigh. While she's lived all over the world, she was kind enough to highlight a few of her favorite things to do in Farnham, Surrey, England--which I immediately knew would be a perfect fit for my Anglophile self.

So, read on, and, hopefully, get inspired to visit this gorgeous part of England yourself.

Hello, lovely Cosmos Mariners readers! My name is Kayleigh, and I blog over at The Way I Wanderlust where I write about my travels and trying to live a creative life.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I grew up in the British Army, so you can say I have loved to travel since I was very little. My family moved to Canada when I was about ten, moving several times in the next ten years. In my twenties, I have made it my mission to see and experience as many places as I could. I have backpacked through Europe for about fifteen months and lived in Australia for a year as well as taking smaller trips here and there.

What to See in Farnham, Surrey | CosmosMariners.comLately, over on my blog, I have been writing a lot about my trip to England and Wales that I took last fall. Today, I would love to share with you a few must see things in and around the Farnham, Surrey area.

Farnham, Surrey

I spent a few years growing up in this quaint little town. It has many things to offer: boutique clothing stores, farmers markets, coffee shops, and the huge park which includes Farnham castle. This beautiful town is well worth the visit. Spend the day wandering around the shops, check out the cathedral, walk along the river and the park. Spend a few hours relaxing in the grass, having a picnic, reading or just enjoying the peace and quiet.

What to See in Farnham, Surrey | CosmosMariners.com

The Sculpture Park

The Sculpture Park is located about 30 mins outside of Farnham, Surrey. It's the largest year round sculpture exhibition in the world with over 600 sculptures from many different artists. Tucked away in acres of maintained ponds and flowers gardens, it's a magical experience. Most of the sculptures are also available for purchase--if only I had more room in my suitcase!

Allow yourself to get lost and wander through the trails. Each sculpture is set up in a unique area which sets the scene for amazing pictures. I would recommend breaking up your day by wandering over to the pub across the street which offers all kinds of refreshments.

What to See in Farnham, Surrey | CosmosMariners.com

Jane Austen's House Museum

I have been a long time Jane Austen fan as I am sure many other people are. Whenever I have taken trips to England, I always make it a habit of stopping by one of the places that feature something regarding Jane Austen. Located in Chawton, Hampshire, it's about 16 mins away from Farnham. This is a really small town and there really isn't much else to it other then the museum, although there is a lovely cafe right across the street.

This beautiful 18th century house is where she spent the last 8 years of her life. The house itself features artifacts that belonged to Jane Austen. Walk through the rooms and experience how she lived back then. Outside, wander through the cottage garden where you are free to sit and enjoy a picnic.

What to See in Farnham, Surrey | CosmosMariners.com

Waverley Abbey

Located about 2 miles outside of Farnham, this abbey is well worth the trip. One of the first abbeys to be built in England, it was, unfortunately, mostly destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries. Hidden away in the countryside with nothing around it for miles, it is a very peaceful place. Walk around and enjoy the serenity that is offered by this mystical place. The abbey is well maintained and even has drawings of what it use to look like when it was first built.

What to See in Farnham, Surrey | CosmosMariners.com

Thank you for letting me take over this lovely blog for a day. I hope you have enjoyed exploring a secret spots around the Farnham area!


Check out more of Kayleigh's travels or connect with her! 

Which of these places would you be most excited to visit? What parts of England have you seen?

P.S. If you're interested in sharing your literary or history-based travels with my readers, I'd love to feature you, too! Email me at cosmosmariners@gmail.com for more information and to set up a date. 

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.com

Hi, fellow mariners! Today, I'm happy to introduce you to a new blogger who's doing something that I always wanted to do--study abroad at Oxford University. Sara from Sara Laughed is enjoying her year in England and blogging about all of it before she returns to her home university in Massachusetts at the end of this school year. I asked her to share what it's like to live and study at the English speaking world's oldest institute of higher learning. Enjoy!

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comHi friends! My name is Sara and I blog over at Sara Laughed about college life, love, and travel. I'm a current college student studying abroad at Oxford University. Since Natalie studied abroad in London while she was in college, she reached out and asked me to share with you some details of my time at Oxford. I hope this gives you the chance to live vicariously through my experience and get a little glimpse of what makes Oxford so magical!

It was a snowy morning in Massachusetts when I found out I'd been accepted to Oxford for my year abroad. I was thrilled - I called my parents and danced around my room in my pajamas. On the one hand, I had wanted nothing more than to get into this program - to live abroad and to experience a new university and a new culture. On the other, I was completely terrified. I had no idea what Oxford would hold in store for me, and whether I could handle the pressure of a new university, in a new country, on another continent.

 It turns out I had nothing to worry about. I have loved almost everything about my time at Oxford, which has been about six months now. Being a Junior Year Abroad student means that I straddle the awkward line between resident and tourist - I still experience everything with fresh eyes, but I've lived here long enough to know the streets and shops and to have a regular routine.

Today, I'd like to share with you how Oxford looks through my, still new, eyes - here are 5 things I love about Oxford.

 5 // The colleges

Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comThe Bridge of Sighs, part of Hertford College

Oxford is visually breathtaking. The university is the oldest in the English-speaking world, and because its colleges date in their origins between 1249 and 2008 (yes, really!), they features a huge variety of architectural styles. As a student, my university ID lets me into most of the colleges without trouble, meaning that I can attend Evensong services in Christ Church or go to my tutorial at Pembroke College, even though my own college is quite a walk away. I love that the college system gives students so much variety in what they can experience and explore.

4 // The libraries
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.com
The Harris Manchester library.

The Oxford library system is absolutely incredible. The Bodleian Libraries include a total of 40 different libraries all around the city, with over 11 million books and printed items. Many of the libraries are also incredibly beautiful, internally or externally. Knowing that I have so much knowledge at my fingertips is amazing, and for a nerd like me, it's heaven!

  3 // The covered market
The Covered Market is a historic market near the center of Oxford with lots of little independent shops and cafés. The shops range from flower stores to a hat shop, and include a butcher and plenty of places to sit down for tea (or coffee, if that's your beverage of choice) or have lunch. I have a favorite café with both indoor and outdoor seating that serves warm drinks and delicious cakes!

  2 // The uniquely Oxford traditions
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comTorpids on the Thames.

Oxford has plenty of traditions that I would be unlikely to experience anywhere else. Punting on the Thames is a popular option in spring, as is playing croquet on your college's lawn (I'm excited to try both of these next term!). Last weekend I went to see Torpids, a special boat race in which the object is to "bump" the boat in front of you to move ahead. The race developed because the part of the Thames on which the race is held is too narrow for traditional boat racing. It was a very fun and strange experience that represented, to me, the many ways in which Oxford is unique.

 1 // The opportunities
Studying Abroad at Oxford University: a Guest Post by Sara Laughed | CosmosMariners.comThe first ball I attended.

However, if I had to choose the single thing I loved most about Oxford, it would be the incredible range of opportunities available to students. As a student, I've attended a wine tasting class, balls, college parties, formal dinners, lectures at the Oxford Union, and more. The city and university are so rich in what they have to offer that I know I'll never be able to try it all, no matter how long I stay here. All in all, I feel incredibly lucky to be spending a year in this beautiful small city. One of my parents was a fellow at Oxford, and as a result, this happens to be the city where I was born, though we moved away soon after. Maybe this year is the fates bringing me back; who knows what's in store next!

If you liked reading about Sara's Oxford experiences, follow along with her for even more on college, her life, and her travels.

Have you ever been to Oxford? If not, what's one thing you'd like to experience?